Real estate development company DeBartolo Development and real estate consultancy Keystone Consulting Group announced the creation of the CNG Infrastructure Expansion Project, with the goal of significantly increasing the number of compressed natural gas fueling stations in the U.S.

After an initial pilot project of 10 new fueling stations, the partnership plans to develop 1,000 stations across the U.S. in the next four years.

"This partnership represents both an end and a beginning," says Edward M. Kobel, DeBartolo president and COO. "By increasing accessibility to CNG, we will end the high price of transportation fuels, reduce pollution caused by using gasoline and diesel and decrease the impact foreign markets have on our nation's economy. This plan, coupled with several other national fueling efforts, will make CNG even more of a reality for fleet operators and individuals looking for an alternative fuel that can cut their fueling costs in half."

The project's 10 initial stations will help determine the best way to offer CNG fueling stations across the country in the future. As part of the pilot, four different station models will be tested, focusing on fueling fleet vehicles. These stations will range from a private fueling option for a single fleet to a station built to serve multiple fleets and run by an experienced retailer. The project will also identify and partner with leading fueling retailers in select areas to increase CNG accessibility to general consumers.

DeBartolo will provide funding for the stations and act as the preferred developer for turnkey fueling infrastructure solutions. Additionally, Keystone, which has a lengthy affiliation with DeBartolo, will find and develop fueling station opportunities.

When asked whether these stations will be suitable for heavy-duty commercial tractor-trailers, Erik Hector, a DeBartolo spokesman, said the company "is interested in traditional build to suit opportunities involving full array of CNG fueling stations. Credit-worthy tenants and/or fueling contracts are required, and we have no bias toward public or private access or class of vehicle; only the precondition that minimum levels of yield are attainable for each investment."

The two companies are negotiating with several co-developers, users, and tenants and are not yet ready to announce locations. Initial efforts are focusing on the states of Florida, Louisiana, West Virginia, Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma and California. Private-access stations are expected to be the predominate investment in the initial years, with public stations becoming more popular as a market is 'seeded' with bi-fuel vehicles.

According to the Department of Energy, today's CNG fueling market includes approximately 500 public stations and 500 private stations. However, many of those are not designed for commercial fleet fueling. Nearly 100 additional public stations are also currently in development.

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